They waited three hours, sometimes in driving rain, to ascend to the fifth floor of a parking garage in Miami Beach. It was the Fourth of July weekend, but the lines went down the block. The promised land was a glass box aerie filled with Justin Bieber-branded T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.
The box could have been a merchandise stand at a Bieber concert — most of the items were branded “Purpose,” the name of Mr. Bieber’s new album (which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart) and current tour — except that it was in Alchemist, a fashion boutique with an outpost in the garage of a Herzog & de Meuron complex. The shop more often is given over to high-end women’s wear by Rick Owens, Chrome Hearts or Haider Ackermann. But for two days, a collection of Bieberiana took over the space, drawing not only Mr. Bieber’s die-hard fans and the requisite eBay resellers, but also streetwear wonks and fashion girls, Mr. Bieber’s new converts.
“It’s funny,” said Roma Cohen, the owner of Alchemist. “I’ve never really had anything that is for those high-fashion fans that love Rick and Chrome Hearts as well as their little sisters.”
The pop-up resulted in the store’s best 48 hours of business ever.
Mr. Bieber’s tour hits Madison Square Garden this week. Touring in tandem, aligned with but not always tethered to Mr. Bieber’s performances, is his Purpose merchandise, a boutique’s worth of clothes and accessories edging ever further from mere memorabilia and closer to a fully fledged, if single-minded, fashion collection. It is finding an eager audience not necessarily in the besotted ranks of preteen Beliebers. Now at pop-up shops, at multibrand retailers eager to court and convert fans, and a dedicated online store for those who may never get close to Mr. Bieber at all, Purpose pieces are coming in and, just as soon, flying out.
”They’re still coming in for it, calling and emailing,” Mr. Cohen said. The few pieces that are still available in Alchemist’s other location on the complex’s ground floor hang alongside items by the French couturier Azzedine Alaïa.
The interest of a newly rabid fashion fan base in what used to be dismissed as mere “merch” has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry. Mr. Bieber is riding the wave of a boom in concert merchandise, and after seeing the more fashion-forward aesthetic of the Purpose merchandise, and the success of its pop-ups, Barneys New York will carry an exclusive Purpose capsule collection. It arrives July 16 at Barneys stores in New York, Beverly Hills, Calif., and San Francisco and online. It is the first time Barneys has carried a musician’s touring merchandise.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Jay Bell, a senior vice president at Barneys who oversees the men’s designer section. “It is the first time we’ve done it, but it felt right. It felt like something that would resonate with our customers, and that could sit seamlessly with the other brands we sell.”
The Barneys capsule collection ranges from the expected T-shirts to jerseys and jeans, all the way to $1,675 leather jackets.
“It’s important for an artist to break out of that idea of merch as a T-shirt, as a simple memento souvenir, because at the end of the day, they’re driving the trends,” said Mat Vlasic, the newly appointed chief executive of Bravado, a merchandise and licensing company that produces Mr. Bieber’s Purpose collection. “They’re driving fashion. They should own it a little more. And we should, too.”
Concert tees, especially vintage ones, have been status-symbol garments for decades. Industry veterans fondly recall the graphic forays of the Grateful Dead; for a younger generation, there was Axl Rose, bellowing onstage in his own Guns N’ Roses tee. But today’s artists are accustomed to hobnobbing in the fashion world, which both supports them and harnesses their celebrity for its own ends. Rihanna is a face of Dior; in 2015, Mr. Bieber was made a chiseled body of Calvin Klein, which also sponsors the Purpose tour.
With the business of merchandise on the rise (Bravado’s revenues have increased fourfold since Universal Music Group acquired the company in 2007), it was perhaps inevitable that some artists would look to expand their collections themselves.
Mr. Bieber is only the latest artist to nudge his merchandise into the realm of fashion. The godfather of the current phenomenon is Kanye West, the fashion-obsessed rapper who has toggled between fashion and music, trying out a high-end women’s collection at Paris Fashion Week before settling into the sportier Yeezy collection for men and women.
But he has been just as attuned to his graphic, self-branded touring merchandise, taking cues from the fashion industry to promote and distribute it: niggling over details in the in-arena merch stands, announcing pop-ups minutes before they open.
His Yeezus items remain hot tickets on resale sites, and in February he presented a new Yeezy collection; a new album, “The Life of Pablo;” and a Pablo merchandise collection of hats, sweats, shirts, jackets and more — all at the same time. With the merchandise for the Yeezus and Pablo tours, Mr. West, wrote the Ringer website last month, has done nothing less than “set a streetwise blueprint for concert merch.” In fact, the Pablo merchanise predates the Pablo concert tour, which starts in August.
His fellow stars took note. Now Beyoncé sells fashionably ironic shirts that read “Boycott Beyoncé.” Selena Gomez has a 30-piece collection of her own — including bandannas and patch-covered denim shorts — for sale at her Revival tour concerts or available for pre-order. Zayn Malik recently began selling his Arabic-printed bomber jackets and hoodies online.
Working hand in hand with many of the top artists — not only Mr. Bieber, but Mr. West, Ms. Gomez and Guns N’ Roses, too — is Bravado. (Despite being owned by Universal Music Group, Bravado is not limited to Universal artists.)
Bravado functions as a fashion house in miniature, with its own design studio, production contracts and licensers who broker deals for its artists and its merchandise. A tour through the Bravado showroom in its concrete offices in Midtown Manhattan takes a visitor past Queen-branded wine, Rolling Stones tequila, Beatles Hot Wheels cars and a Michael Jackson slot machine.
On Bravado’s in-house design team, 16 people work on lines for more than 200 artists, many of whom are directly involved in the process. Ariana Grande had been FaceTiming the Bravado team in the days before one meeting there; the rapper Desiigner was en route to a meeting at the office after another. In an earlier generation, many of Bravado’s design team would have labored over album sleeves — in fact, some did. Dawud West, a veteran of Def Jam records, where he designed an album cover for Jay Z, now designs Guns N’ Roses T-shirts for Bravado.
“Print work is not really in demand anymore,” he said. Merchandise has helped to fill the void.
For those young fans still in the market for a T-shirt with Mr. Bieber’s angelic preteen face — the merchandise of an earlier era — the older goods are, quietly, still available. But for Purpose, Mr. Bieber enlisted Jerry Lorenzo, whose best-selling Fear of God label makes up the majority of his touring wardrobe, to work with Bravado on a collection that, unlike his previous merchandise, he was willing to wear himself, and does.
The intervention of Mr. Lorenzo, who previously worked with Mr. West on his Yeezus tour designs, brought a harder, more fashion-forward edge, drawing on the heavy metal and rock tees of the past. It was part of a “very conscious” effort to recalibrate Mr. Bieber’s image, Mr. Vlasic said: He “very much was in a narrow demo of screaming girls, and all of a sudden the door’s flipped open to a much larger audience.” His apparel, as well as his new sound, has brought new fans into the fold (or at least out of the shadows).
“Justin’s fan base is gigantic,” said Scooter Braun, who discovered Mr. Bieber, now 22, on YouTube a decade ago and still acts as his manager. “But I do think that there are people who stream his music who before didn’t want anyone else to know they were streaming it. The fashion sensibility of the tour merch has made it cool to put the name Bieber on the front of your chest and wear it proudly. Whether it brought new fans, I don’t know. Whether it made closet fans step out into the open? I believe so.”
There they were, lined up outside VFiles, the trendsetting SoHo boutique, at the first Bieber pop-up, in May, waiting to buy. “We nearly had a riot in the street,” said Julie Anne Quay, the founder of VFiles.
Mr. Vlasic recalled, “It wasn’t really Bieber fans on the line.” (Those fans were camped out across the street, to get the best view of Mr. Bieber if he came.) “It was made up mostly of streetwear guys. I call them the Hypebeast, Supreme guys. That was the most interesting thing.”
While many of the Bieber pieces went up instantaneously on eBay, thanks to profiteering resellers, more than a few have found their way to Grailed, a new online resale marketplace aimed squarely at the streetwear demographic. Eighty pieces so far have been listed since the pop-ups began, said Lawrence Schlossman, the brand director of Grailed, and 60 percent of those sold immediately, though they do not elicit the fervor of limited editions by Supreme or Yeezus pieces by Mr. West. (Before Purpose, “it would have been a sacrilegious thing to say the word ‘Supreme’ and ‘Justin Bieber’ in the same sentence,” Mr. Vlasic said.)
For women, too, Purpose has become part of a high-end designer wardrobe, to judge by the editors and designers who have taken to wearing it.
Gilda Ambrosio, whose collection, Attico, was recently touted in the pages of Vogue, often wears Mr. Bieber’s merchandise; at Pitti Uomo, the Florentine men’s wear fair, she wore a Purpose “Staff” T-shirt with a vintage floral skirt, and Louis Vuitton accessories. Mr. Bieber noticed and put up a photo on his Instagram. “When 1,000 people text you about your picture on Justin’s Instagram, you really understand how powerful music still is,” Ms. Ambrosio said.
Many have noted a kinship between cult T-shirts by Vetements, fashion’s runway fascination of the moment, and those in the Purpose collection. Rather than carp about the connection, Demna Gvasalia, the Vetements head designer, embraced it. A sweatshirt from the fall 2016 collection reads “Justin 4Ever,” and Mr. Gvasalia created a “Staff” shirt of his own, which he wore to the Vetements fashion show in July. (The back of the Bieber “Staff” shirt lists the Purpose tour dates; the back of the Vetements one lists the members of the Vetements team, in the same style.) The Vetements T-shirt will be sold as part of its spring 2017 collection, a spokeswoman confirmed.
“We’ve seen those,” Mr. Lorenzo said of the Vetements pieces. “We kind of riff on their vibe, too.”
As Purpose noses its way into Fashion Week, it raises the question: Is it fashion?
Mr. Bieber himself, who expressed his admiration for fashion labels — “everything from Saint Laurent to Calvin Klein to Yeezy” — noted that men’s fashion in particular is indebted to streetwear, skate, sport and rock, as is his collection.
“I’m happy and proud people are reacting to it and adopting it,” he said via a spokesman. “I don’t think of our tour merch as being ‘fashion.’ That’s a really high compliment for what it is. But I am really happy we were able to dial in to something cool the way we did.”
Not every one of his admirers is inclined to agree.
Chiara Ferragni, creator of the website the Blonde Salad (called “the world’s most popular fashion blog” by a Harvard Business School case study), snapped up a Bieber T-shirt and wore it with faux patent leather pants, Dior shoes and Balenciaga bag, to the delight of her more than six million fans.
“I saw it on one of my friends and I was like, ‘I have to get that,’” she said. “Something that back in the day we would have found so stupid and never be caught dead wearing is now the hit piece of the season.”
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